A study by the non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) has yielded some troubling results regarding network news coverage of the Republican candidates for president: frontrunner Mitt Romney “is getting by far the most negative press of the GOP field.” The Center monitored 118 stories on the Republican primaries, covering a period from January 1st, through the January 10th primary in New Hampshire, following the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, NBC, and the first half-hour of Fox’s “Special Report,” which is most like the network news shows in content and presentation. Negative coverage by ABC, NBC and CBS is hardly surprising. But is Fox News part of the anti-Romney club as well?
On what the CMPA is calling “evaluative comments,” Romney was the only candidate to receive a majority of negative coverage from all the networks, and the ratio of negative to positive was more than three-to-one. Seventy-eight percent of the time he was panned, versus only 22 percent praise. Other Republican candidates fared far better. Evaluations of Ron Paul were 73 percent positive vs. 27 percent negative. Jon Huntsman generated 71 percent positive vs. 29 percent negative coverage. Rick Santorum’s evaluations were 56 percent positive vs. 44 percent negative. Even firebrand Newt Gingrich garnered 52 percent positive vs. 48 percent negative coverage. The remaining candidates received too few evaluations to be statistically meaningful.
CMPA also noted the differences in coverage by the various networks regarding their evaluations of the Republican candidates as a whole. Fox provided the most even-handed overall coverage, with 52 percent positive vs. 48 percent negative comments, while CBS provided the highest percentage of positive comments on the Republican field, at 57 percent positive versus 43 percent negative. CMPA noted that CBS’s totals were somewhat skewed by 89 percent positive ratings given to Ron Paul. (One is tempted to consider that such praise for the candidate consistently occupying last place in the field may have something to do with it.)
Yet even as Fox provided the most even-handed coverage overall, the network’s news segment “Special Report” ran negative evaluations of Romney 63 percent of time vs. only 37 percent positive ones. Since, as noted above, Fox took the most even-handed approach to reporting on the Republican field overall, the special animus directed at Romney seems difficult to understand.
Or maybe not. On a December 8th broadcast of the “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough claimed that Fox News host Chris Wallace had little use for the Republican frontrunner. “Chris Wallace has never made a secret of the fact that he loathes Mitt Romney, has never liked him,” Scarborough said during the broadcast. “Anybody that knows Chris Wallace at Fox has said the same thing. Chris Wallace, of course, will deny it, and then throw an insult around because that’s what he’s done in the past.”
Wallace did of course deny the contention. “You know, some people say, and I will take this advice, don’t punch down,” he said. “Don’t respond to folks that are silly and aren’t worthy of a response. It isn’t true. I suspect (Joe Scarborough) knows it isn’t true. I think he’s trying to get into Fox with a network that gets higher ratings than he does. I’ll leave it at that.”
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